Feelings of anxiety are increasingly common during these uncertain times. In a recent KFF poll, 45% of US adults reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted by anxiety related to COVID-19.
Below are five quick tips to help you manage distressing feelings of anxiety and improve both physical and mental health.
1. Slow breathing. When anxiety hits, your breathing becomes more shallow and faster than usual. This sends signals to the body’s regulatory systems to be in high alert mode. To counter this, place one hand on your belly button and one hand on your chest and try taking slow, deep breaths. When you inhale, try to move your breath all the way into the hand on your belly. Try inhaling for a count of three and exhaling for a count of five. Try doing this for 5-10 cycles of breath and notice the difference in your body.
2. Write it down. Often, worries can take over when you ruminate without an end in sight. Writing worries down by keeping a diary can help them feel more tangible and get you out of the cycle of endless rumination. Often, clients ask if typing or keeping online record of their thoughts helps in the same way, but I find that the physical act of putting pen to paper helps my clients get the most help with managing their anxiety. This is one of the few areas where I recommend going low-tech!
3. Refocus on the present. Grounding yourself in your immediate surroundings can help to counter an overwhelming experience of anxiety and bring you back into the present moment. To try this technique, focus on mindfully noticing five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, and so on. Another grounding technique that can help refocus is brief distraction from your feelings. A couple of examples of this would be to count backward from 100 by 7s or choose a category such as “cereals” or “animals” and name as many items from this category as possible within a few minutes to bring attention away from distressing thoughts or emotions.
4. Take a different perspective. Try to think of different interpretations of a situation that is causing you worry or anxiety. Anxiety can be helpful emotion to alert you to situations which may be dangerous, but the downside is that you may misinterpret situations when you are feeling anxious. Rather than jumping to worst-case conclusions, break out of your anxious cycle of thinking by opening up different possibilities. See if you can come up with at least three possible alternative explanations or interpretations of the situation.
5. Talk to a support. You do not have to struggle with anxiety alone. Reaching out to supportive others such as friends, family members, or a support group, who can listen and who may have gone through something similar can help you feel less alone. You may also learn new ways of dealing with anxiety that might work for you.
Everyone feels anxious at least sometimes, and we are currently living through a time of collective anxiety and stress. Finding anxiety management techniques that work for you and practicing them consistently when you feel anxious is the key to dealing with anxiety when it hits. Remember that as debilitating and distressing as these feelings may be, there are steps that you can take to manage them. And if you’ve tried many different techniques with little progress or you feel like your anxiety is beyond what you can manage on your own, seeking the help of a qualified mental health professional can be an important step in improving your overall sense of wellbeing and health.